Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said she felt at home when thousands of migrant workers gathered to greet their "Me Suu" (Mother Suu) with joy and the hope that she will take their country towards democracy and prosperity.
Her first overseas trip in 24 years kicked off yesterday in Samut Sakhon's Mahachai area, where she did not feel at all like a stranger because the town is the home and workplace for thousands of Myanmar migrant workers. In fact, many of them have lived in Mahachai for more than two decades now.
After hearing about her visit from local media, social networks and friends, Myanmar citizens gathered outside the office of the Migrant Worker's Rights Network (MWRN) hours before her arrival at 10am yesterday.
Many of the workers wore T-shirts with her image, or carried portraits of Suu Kyi and her father late General Aung San, as well as flowers and signs expressing their feelings and opinions.
"Want to be embraced by Mother Suu", one poster read. "Yes, I feel like she is our mother," affirmed 29-year-old Karen worker Chit Thu.
Nan Kyat Su Kyi, a restaurant worker who was standing nearby, said, "It is more than that. I feel like she is our queen. I think if she was given a chance to run the country, Myanmar would be a lot better than it is now."
Nan Kyat Su Kyi and her friends spent Bt400 on a taxi from Bangkok to Mahachai so they could catch a glimpse of Suu Kyi yesterday.
"We have come to see her, laud her and support her struggle for democracy and the future of our country," Ni Ni Moyo Aye, a young Karen woman, said.
Laup, a farm worker from the neighbouring Ratchaburi province, said he tried to follow Suu Kyi wherever she went in order to absorb her strong spirit. "If I have a chance to talk to her in person, I will say nothing but wish her good health, good spirit and happiness," the worker, who also goes by the name Wichai, said.
Suu Kyi spent an hour at the office of migrant workers' network in Mahachai, and told the gathering that she had learned much about their situation and living conditions in Thailand. "I can give you one promise - I will try my best for you," she said, to loud applause.
At the MWRN office, Suu Kyi met senior officials from the Samut Sakhon provincial authority, representatives of migrant workers as well as NGO staff members who raised several issues related to migrant workers in Thailand.
An NGO member said that Suu Kyi had promised that she would take the issue up with the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, where she will be attending a conference next month.
She told Myanmar workers that since they had to live and work under Thai laws and regulations, they should respect and obey the country's law and order.
"When you work in another country, be responsible and skilful, so people in the country can respect you," she
said, adding that they would become a valuable resource for their country once they return home. History is always changing. You are working here now, but when our country is developed, the value of workers will be higher. We won't forget you," she said.
Suu Kyi is hoping to use her time in Thailand addressing issues related to Myanmar concerns. She brought up the subject of migrant workers during her meeting with former prime minister and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday, and is planning to raise the issue again today when she meets Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is in charge of migrant worker issues.